You have a Ferrari 250 GTO or Singer-reimagined-Porsche in the garage. Among others. And yet there’s something about a £50,000, Megane-engined Alpine that means you have to have one, even if you wouldn’t usually be seen dead in a Renault dealership.
Word on the street has it this is exactly what’s happening. I couldn’t see such people doing the same for a Porsche 718 Cayman. They might just have done it for an Alfa Romeo 4C. And driven it once before tucking it away at the back of the garage to sit under a lingering blanket of unfulfilled expectation. But an Alpine is the kind of thing supercar owners want to buy. Be seen in. And drive, whether it’s to the shops or to the ‘Ring.
How come? After 2000 miles in one I think I might have a sense.
Now, I don’t have the luxury of a 250 GTO to hand. But I have been lucky enough to spend time in some pretty tasty cars and have a sense of both the joy and frustration to be had in them. You’ll have heard variations on this story before, but it basically comes down to the growing disparity between the performance of even junior-league supercars and what can be enjoyed on the road and/or by average drivers. As such I think Renault may have timed Alpine’s revival to perfection.
But why is the Alpine winning hearts and minds while the Cayman, 4C and Lotus Elise and Exige are already there, share similarly emotive brand heritage and cost similar money? There must be something about this car, some sort of… what’s the French phrase again… it’ll come to me, I’m sure.
The looks play a part, though I’m not convinced going full retro is necessarily the best idea. Heritage? The original A110 Berlinette is a classic icon but, beyond that, I’m not sure Alpine resonates with anyone beyond car world and, outside France, the brand has traditionally been a nearly-man, even when compared with Lotus. What do I know, though? People seem to love it and it turns heads like something costing three times as much, while lacking the ‘compensating, much?’ emotional baggage of a Ferrari.
Performance? Maybe. 250bhp and 0-62 in 4.5 seconds are convincing enough. Especially when paired with a kerbweight 300kg less than the Megane Renault Sport with which it shares an engine. But I think the one thing most people will be stunned by when they have a go in the Alpine is ride quality. I know, since when was that a deciding factor when buying a mid-engined sports car?
But the way Renault has turned the Alpine’s lightness into a tangible benefit, rather than just a spec sheet boast, is a real coup. Just as Lotus has made its cars stiffer and less… Lotus-like, so Alpine has proven the benefits of a light structure, relatively small wheels and a fixation with saving weight where it counts. Check out those gorgeous Brembos if you were in any doubt - combining the parking brake into the caliper saves 2.5kg of unsprung weight alone.
Things like this mean it just flows over broken roads, whether you’re on the Col de l’Iseran or Acton High Street. This shouldn’t be a revelation. But we’ve got so used to a marketing interpretation of ‘sporty’ suspension, big wheels and low-profile tyres we’ve kind of forgotten how much this matters. Yes Cayman, looking at you on your optional 20s…
And because it’s comfy and on relatively small rubber it doesn’t need tons of sound-deadening to make it refined on a run. The mountain passes I drove the A110 over were epic. But so was the 600-mile drive each way to get there, and most of that was on motorways. Even in fixed Sabelt bucket seats the Alpine was quiet and comfy. And sipped fuel at pretty much bang on the claimed 46.3mpg combined average.
Nit pickers will sneer at the parts-bin Renault bits and some of the cheaper plastics in the cabin. But where it matters Renault has done just enough to make the Alpine feel special inside and the parts you interact with - steering wheel, pedals, passenger kickplate, seats and the rest - are all nice enough. And if anyone questions that you have the ‘because lightness’ get-out-of-jail free card, it’s worth bearing in mind a comparable 718 Cayman PDK weighs a quarter of a tonne more.
The best thing about the Alpine, though? That you can enjoy all this, drive in a fashion that makes it feel like you’re making decent progress, dabble in the odd slither out of a hairpin and have a right hoot. And whenever you look at the speedo you think “oh, is that all?” Which makes it sound like I’m making excuses for the lack of pants-on-fire performance. I’m not. The masterstroke is making that the least important thing in the whole driving experience.
And, whether you’re coming from an Audi TT or a 250 GTO, that’s what makes the Alpine such a breath of fresh air and worthy of sharing garage space with any supercar. What was that French phrase I was after that sums it all up? That was it! Je ne sais quoi! Don’t bother looking it up in Google translate – the explanation is right here in front of you.